Launched in the summer of 2016, the Rural Summer Legal Corps is a privately funded initiative to connect law students with legal aid programs in the common pursuit of better addressing the civil legal needs of rural communities. In partnership with Equal Justice Works, LSC selects about thirty of the nation’s most talented and dedicated law students to spend their summers working at LSC-grantee offices across the United States and its territories. The students work on projects to improve access to justice for rural residents, including providing direct legal services, engaging in community outreach and education, researching, and helping build the capacity of LSC grantees.
Since 2016, ninety law students have helped rural communities in 39 states and territories across the United States as part of the Rural Summer Legal Corps. Fifty of LSC’s 132 grantees have hosted at least one law student. Students have worked on a diverse array of projects including assisting in Medical-Legal Partnership cases in New Hampshire, developing a model Pro Se Divorce Clinic in Oklahoma, organizing expungement clinics in Florida, and assisting pro se litigants in the Code of Federal Regulations Court on an Indian Reservation.
Law student Tyler Akers, who joined Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma last summer, was excited when he first learned about RSLC.
“I was on the board of a mental health organization, and just noticed that what I could do to help always seemed a little more limited than I would like it to be,” he said. “I applied to law school and was always looking for opportunities in law school to do that. When the fellowship came up, I was very excited to apply for it. Thankfully I got in!”
Not only does law students’ service benefit rural communities, it will also help prepare them for their careers after graduation.
“It made me more excited for the actual work,” Akers explained about his RSLC experience. “Just on a practical level, I learned how to write pleadings, and I demystified the whole court room experience by spending a lot of time in court.”
Courtney Crowder, a 2015 fellow now working at Legal Aid of West Virginia, believes that the program helped prepare her for her career. “My summer really introduced me to a lot of legal concerns and problems that I didn’t think I would have been exposed to otherwise,” she explained. “I think it made me a lot more effective in helping clients now.”
While many RSLC fellows are excited to experience new areas of the country, many others choose to return to their home states in order to give back to their communities.
“I knew of Georgia Legal services specifically because when I came out of the military they were the first ones to help me get on track and know what resources were available for veterans and young women,” law student and RSLC fellow, Mamie Parks, said. “People are always rooting for you in a rural community. You really become a part of effectuating justice and helping people at a very community level. It is immediately rewarding.”
Parks also personally found the program rewarding, saying, “this program let me know that I want to be in the community where I can help young women see that law school and the legal system is an option for them.” She continued, “I think that anyone who works in equal justice will realize that there are so many opportunities to have a positive impact on our community and our nation.”
Crowder explained that the program allowed her to provide meaningful help to rural communities. “I was drawn to the program because I could see how our work could have a huge impact on the lives of families and children,” she explained.
Akers also found the summer an impactful experience, saying, “For me, a meaningful life requires this kind of work.”
LSC’s Campaign for Justice funds groundbreaking initiatives that strengthen the work of civil legal aid providers across the country. The goal of the Rural Summer Legal Corps fellowship program is to provide critical legal services to clients while engaging a new group of lawyers with civil legal aid.
Communities are helped, host sites’ capacities are enhanced
Almost 50 rural communities in the United States have been helped by diligent and dedicated Rural Summer Legal Corps fellows. In 2017, fellows served over 1,900 rural community members, including 530 agricultural workers, 230 victims of domestic violence, 380 seniors, and 90 veterans. Each fellow spent, on average, 115 hours over the summer providing direct legal services to the community.
Host sites like fellows, with the biggest impacts being in increasing community outreach and education and research. In interviews, several supervisors noted that their organization was able to do more work, complete projects they would not have done otherwise, and reach more clients because of their fellow. The vast majority of host site supervisors for the 2017 program said that they would host fellows again.
Information for LSC Grantees
In November or December of each year LSC announces the host site application process for the Rural Summer Legal Corps. LSC-funded civil legal aid organizations are invited to submit a project proposal that will leverage the talent and enthusiasm of a law student in support of
your direct legal services, outreach, education, and capacity-building initiatives.
Host site eligibility is limited to LSC-funded civil legal aid organizations (grantees). The LSC grantee applies to LSC for a law student or students and receives the student’s stipend to dispense at a later date. The grantee agrees to supervise the law student(s) for the 8-10 week program and to ensure that the law student(s) is contributing to service delivery to eligible clients in rural locations.
How to Apply
The application process for the 2019 Rural Summer Legal Corps ended October 31, 2018.
Information for Law Students
Rural Summer Legal Corps students spend 8 to 10 weeks working at a LSC grantee host site on projects that improve access to justice in rural communities. They complete a minimum of 300 hours of service to rural populations. Before traveling to their host sites, students attend a three-day training course in Washington, D.C., which brings in experts on housing law, family law, domestic violence, public benefits, agricultural workers, and Native Americans. As part of the training, students will visit a rural legal aid provider in the D.C. area. Each student will receive a $5,000 stipend. Travel and training expenses for the D.C. training are also covered.
The Rural Summer Legal Corps is open to law students who will have completed their first or second year by the start of their summer at one of almost 200 Equal Justice Works member law schools. Thirty (30) law students were selected in 2018. Applications for 2019 fellowships will open in late 2018.
For more information visit https://rurallegalcorps.org/
How to Apply